FOR GREATER GLORY
a film review
by Jeanne Powell
For Greater Glory is a strange mix of fact and fiction, with lots of gloss and plenty of filters. It has brief moments but ultimately descends into a puddle of petty propaganda.
The Cristero War in Mexico (1926-1929) is obscure to most North Americans. This conflict had its origins in three articles contained in the Constitution of 1917, which was meant to settle decades of political unrest in Mexico. Between 1810 and 1920, the pages of Mexican history are filled with villains and heroes larger than life and frequently at war over economic injustice, political corruption and interference by foreign nations – from Hidalgo, Santa Anna and Benito Juarez to Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Obregon becomes president after the assassinations of Zapata and Carranza. He has been described as tough, clever and pragmatic; he was selective in applying constitutional limits placed on the great power of the Catholic Church. His successor, Plutarco Elias Calles, was neither diplomatic nor subtle. Battle lines were drawn between the powerful church hierarchy and the new president of Mexico.
Director Dean Wright and screenwriter Michael Love worked with a treasure trove of material, but were interested in only one point of view – the government was bad and all those who opposed the president were good. Ruben Blades gives a convincing portrayal of President Calles, known for being stubborn and inflexible until harsh reality causes him to see the need for mediation with the Cristero rebels.
Eva Longoria is transformed into the pure and elegant wife of a retired general, who wants her husband to risk everything he has in order to restore political rights to the Church. Peter O’Toole looks as though he was brought back from the dead to play the part of a priest. He sleepwalks through his role.
Three lively depictions are those of the military leaders in the Cristero rebellion – Andy Garcia as General Enrique Gorostieta, Oscar Isaac as the guerrilla leader El Catorce and Santiago Cabrera as the warrior priest, Father Vega. These men are Hollywood poster figures – they are handsome, ride horses well and are impervious to bullets. They do not curse or disrespect women and they drink only in moderation. They show contempt or anger by spitting into the dirt.
Women and men are separated carefully in this film. General Gorostieta is shown lying next to his fully clothed wife in bed, once. The warrior priest, Father Vega, is surrounded by worshipful female supporters on a single occasion, who greet him primarily because he is a priest. Middle class women are well dressed and very quiet at home and in public. Working class women appear as scenic human furniture, patiently performing domestic work in other people’s homes and in the rebel camp.
And the thousands of Federal soldiers drafted by President Calles to fight the rebels in villages and in the desert? They appear as faceless cannon fodder in fresh uniforms with little ability to think or shoot. In contrast, the rebels under Gorostieta, Vega and El Catorce are fearless and rarely miss when they use …handguns!
Who saves the day? The American ambassador Dwight Morrow, played by Bruce Greenwood. With the warring sides at an impasse, a skilled negotiator is needed. However, the U.S. sees this situation as an opportunity to force Mexico into granting greater influence to American oil companies.
When Andy Garcia intones, “Freedom has no compromise; by definition it is absolute,” you sense where the story is going. And this direction is not good for the film or for historical accuracy. Garcia succeeds in his portrayal of a comfortable man and able leader who is persuaded to risk everything for a cause. The film – not so much.
see also http://sidewalkstv.com/web
Causes Jeanne Powell Supports
Union of Concerned Scientists, VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against War), Doctors Without Borders, Waterkeeper Alliance, PSR (Physicians for Social Responsibility...